Female SOLOists: Meet Ana Hop – the Mexican photographer living life through a lens

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“I thought to myself ‘I want to travel so what’s the best way to do it?’” explains photographer Ana Hop, when asked why she chose her profession. “I never cared if I got married, had children or made money. I just wanted to see a lot of places.”

Her ambition to see the globe through the lens of her camera has certainly paid dividends. Ana now travels all over the world shooting portraits, interiors and travel photography for some of the biggest newspapers and magazines in the world, including National Geographic, El Pais and Vogue.

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I realised that being a photographer could be a living

As a child growing up in Mexico City, Ana would often pick up her mother’s analogue camera. It wasn’t until she travelled to London to study at Central St Martin’s that she considered photography as a career. “That was the first time I realised that being a photographer could be a living, she says. “There weren’t many other photographers doing that in Mexico 15 years ago, and if there were they were all men. I saw an opportunity for myself to come back and change things.”

One of her first jobs was travelling the length and breadth of the country shooting luxury hotels for National Geographic Traveller’s “50 Best Spas in Latin America”. That sounds like a dream assignment? “The money was terrible,” she laughs. “But yes, I did get to live like royalty for a couple of nights at a time.”

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Taking a portrait of someone is a very intimate experience

From there she began to specialise in portraits. Ana has framed many famous faces, from the actor Viggo Mortensen to Claudia Pardo, the governor of Mexico City, as well as a few Reggaeton stars. “Taking a portrait of someone is a very intimate experience. You become a sort of therapist as they end up telling you stories about their lives,” says Ana. My style is to shoot in quite a low light. I used to be very shy. I think we are all a little like that when we see ourselves, so it makes people more comfortable. People seem to like the end result in my images.”

It hasn’t all been spa hotels and celebrities, though. While on an assignment in Chihuahua in Northern Mexico, her car tyre got stuck in a sand dune. “I was stranded in the middle of the desert for eight hours. It’s a notoriously dangerous part of the country and I was so scared.” she says.

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It really was a voyage of discovery for me

Better memories come from a trip to Thailand in 2015. “The Thai government invited female photographers from all over the world to shoot the country through their eyes,” she explains. “ I travelled in a van to Chiang Mai, visiting all these little villages. It was a special experience. Not only is Thailand incredibly beautiful but I got to meet other women and see how they managed their lives and careers. I made friends from Australia, Bangkok and New York on that trip. It really was a voyage of discovery for me.”

Her best shot comes from her time in London in 2007. “I was just starting my photography course. I went everywhere with my DSLR camera,” she says. “I was in this bar called Jaguar Shoes in Shoreditch. I was in the queue for the toilet and everyone had on amazing clothes, backdropped by a fabulous floral wallpaper. It’s my favourite photo because it brings back a lot of memories. Not only of being amazed by the London fashion scene but also of wanting to be a photographer and having some freedom. You can lose that feeling when it becomes your profession and you rely on it to pay your bills – looking back reminds me of how it all started.”

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It’s great way to discover the place you’re shooting in

In the last month alone, Ana has travelled to Houston, Texas, to take a portrait of an interior designer, to New York to take pictures for an advertising agency and to New Mexico to shoot two new hotels. Aside from her cameras – both film and digital – Ana always packs her trainers and her running clothes. “When you’re travelling everything about your routine changes – your food, your sleep – so I find that if I can go for my morning run then at least that feels familiar,” she says. “It’s also a great way to get your bearings and discover the place you’re shooting in.”

When she’s not on the road, Ana lives with her boyfriend Sebastian near Chapultepec Park, a 1,700 acre forest in the middle of Mexico City where she runs every morning. “For us it’s the nicest part of the city as it feels so green,” she says. “We have a lush garden where we grow our own fruit and vegetables and there’s an outdoor shower on the terrace.”

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It’s also the smaller details

Ana prefers to travel solo, even when she’s not working. “I love it so much that I could almost cry talking about it,” she says. “There is such freedom in travelling alone. If I see something that makes me curious, I can follow it up. If I want to take pictures then I can go off and take them without having to ask someone if they mind. Solo travel makes me feel so happy and grateful to be able to experience the world in that way,” she explains.

Our travels are often when most of us want to take our best pictures. Ana has this advice for elevating holiday snaps. “I think it’s good to go small,” she says. “Yes it’s the big landscapes or the views but maybe it’s also the smaller details, like two people holding hands. Try to think of the images as memories which will always tell a story of the trip.”

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It’s a holiday but, of course, I’ll pack my cameras

Next month, she will travel to Honduras on a commission with Unicef to take pictures of children from around the world. “I’m excited to go to Honduras, as I’ve never been. Like Mexico, it has a reputation for being dangerous, but there is always another side to that story.”

Before then, she’s squeezing in another trip to Georgia and North Carolina with her boyfriend’s parents. “It’s a holiday but, of course, I’ll pack my cameras,” she smiles. “You never know when you might steal a quick image that could make a great story.

Ana Hop spoke to Kate Wills, author of A Trip of One’s Own, for Female SOLOists – a monthly column for SOLO on women exploring the world their own way. Catch up on the other interviews with Jessica Nabongo, Anna McNuff and Leilani McGonagle now.

Got a story or adventure that could inspire a solo traveller like you? Tag @flashpack on social or email [email protected] to be featured.

Images: ©Ana Hop & ©Robbie Lawrence

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